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Golden Knights open training camp, 'get to know each other'

Expansion team hopes to build chemistry amid 'uncertainty'

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- First the NHL awarded Las Vegas an expansion franchise. Then came a front office, a logo, a name, a coaching staff, a uniform and a roster.

Now the Vegas Golden Knights have to become a team.

 

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They began the process when they opened their first training camp on Thursday.

"It's exciting," forward Erik Haula said. "Today arriving to the rink in the morning, you're kind of like, 'All right. Here we go.' "

The veterans had been filtering into town the past couple of weeks, skating on their own, grabbing meals in small groups. The rookies had opened camp last week and played two games against the Los Angeles Kings.

But the veterans reported officially for medical and physical testing on Thursday morning and were to hold their first meeting as a full group over dinner on Thursday evening.

Video: Sights and Sounds of Golden Knights training camp

Coach Gerard Gallant will hold a quick video session and go over the plan for camp on Friday morning. Then the Golden Knights will practice and scrimmage on Friday and Saturday before their first preseason game at the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, ATTSN-RM).

"I'm probably going to call them the wrong name a few times on the ice, and they'll sort of laugh and giggle," Gallant said with a smile. "And we'll get to know each other and work hard and have fun."

This camp is unlike the other 30 in the NHL, because everyone is coming from the other 30 teams in the League and beyond. For the most part, no one has played together before. Except for defenseman Deryk Engelland, who once played in Las Vegas in the ECHL, no one has played here before. Some players have moved into new places. Others are still in the team hotel.

The practice rink is so new that it doesn't show up on GPS. The slate is clean. Literally. The walls are barren. In a room that will be used for video sessions and press conferences hangs a whiteboard with a Golden Knights logo and spaces for lineups. It hasn't been used yet.

Between now and the regular-season opener at the Dallas Stars on Oct. 6, general manager George McPhee has to set the 23-man roster. Gallant has to set his lineup. The players have to learn the systems and develop chemistry on the ice and off.

"I still haven't met most of our players yet," Gallant said. "You know, you talk to them on the phone a little bit, and you say hello to them. But we're a new group. It's not like you're coming back to a team. When I was [coaching the Florida Panthers], you come back, and 19 of your players are returning from last year. This year, it's all new players."

Tweet from @GoldenKnights: �� pic.twitter.com/MsQggsTIQV

Marc-Andre Fleury is the starting goaltender, Calvin Pickard the backup. Everything else is open. McPhee has said multiple times that you don't really know players until they play for you, and he will watch to see who is better than he thought, who is what he thought and who isn't. 

"There's going to be some uncertainty, and we're looking for clarity," McPhee said.

The competition for roles and jobs could make things more intense than usual. Gallant doesn't want it to become too intense.

"There's no such thing as fighting," Gallant said. "There's no such thing as cheap hits when guys aren't ready. … Everybody's going to have a chance to play in the exhibition season, and if you're a tough guy or physical guy and want to show what you can do then, then you can do it."

As camp goes along and the number of players is reduced, the team should become tighter. There will be more opportunities for bonding. As the season goes along, there might be no choice but to bond, for better or for worse. Everyone is in the same boat, and the NHL is a rough sea.

"We're an expansion team," Gallant said. "We're going to have some tough weeks. We've just to fight through it and stick together as a group and fight through those tough times."

Yes, this is an expansion team. But it has to feel like a team, period, and perform like one.

"It's really important to spend as much time together as possible, and I feel like the rest takes care of itself," Haula said. "Once we get started, I think it's important that we set our expectations to win every night and not be satisfied with anything.

"There's always going to be that outside noise of people trying to stamp us as something, but I feel like if we just have that mindset of we're going to show who we are ourselves and kind of build who we are ourselves, I feel like that way there's going to be success."

Tweet from @GoldenKnights: .@EHaula sets the stage as we now have 2������6������ veterans in Vegas ready for Training Camp...yes, that's all of them�� pic.twitter.com/PgSc4v1SuA

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